The Public Bus Blues


It is character building, this thing called public transit. It is economical, environmentally friendly, efficient, and even communal. Then there is Roma!

Mass transit in the Eternal City demands a definition of terms. Here we go:

1. Bus=Sometimes new, but usually an ancient device that threads triple parked vialle, via and vicolo with inches to spare. Every bolt and fastener on this Metro Moving Monster are slightly loose, causing a cacophony over the potholed San Pietrini Streets that will make your teeth tremble and your ears bleed.

2. Entrance and Exit=Usually there are entrances at the front and back of this animal with a sole exit in the center. The designed boasts ease and efficiency when getting on or off the bus. In Rome, THEY DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE!

  • People exiting properly can’t because of the impatient anarchists trying to board.
  • People entering can’t because previous riders have camped at the doorway, preparing for their illegal exit out of that entrance. Make no mistake. The bus is usually empty in the center and there are available seats. But, even though the desired “exit from the entrance” is 11 stops and 30 minutes away, pompous patrons will camp out and block the door with a siege mentality worthy of Caesar.
  • Ticket=You are supposed to have a ticket. No one does. You are supposed to stamp the ticket in the machine located IN THE CENTER of the bus since Roma has yielded to the anti-entrance shake-and-bake. Those who have a ticket and try must part the sea of stubborn occupants who give no ground to anyone who wants to share what they believe to be their private limo. If the honest traveler makes it to the stamping machine, they will discover it is not working. The machine also takes coins for those wishing to buy a ticket but never has “change” or is non-functioning as well. AND NO ONE EVER ASKS YOU FOR YOUR TICKET. If an occasional bus-ticket-thingie-checkercomes on, they go right for well-dressed riders or tourists. They know the gypsies, homeless and thieves have no ticket. Why bother them?

3. Driver=Sealed in an anti-social fishbowl, this operator takes no money, has no tickets, answers no questions (unless you scream through the glass), and has no interest in who enters, exits, has a ticket, picks your pocket, cooks a goat…you get my drift? In their defense, drivers must navigate the chaos that is Rome. Stop lights are merely suggestions. Round-abouts are a game of “chicken”. Parking is total anarchy leaving the aforementioned needle of passage to be threaded by the operator. They need to focus on the outside. To Hell with the carnage on the inside.

4. Passengers=Good scouts who try to do the right thing. Tourists who are legitimately lost amidst the illogical landscape. Thieves who have easy pickings among the confused, inebriated, and unvigilant. And the rest of us. We jump on with no ticket (mea culpa that’s me), squeeze in, go into mental hibernation, and hope for the best meaning:

  • the bus-ticket-thingie-checker ain’t coming
  • I still have my wallet
  • there is no parade, strike or moron blocking the street

5. Routes=Even with GPS signs at some stops the schedule and routine is a bit of a movable feast. Holidays, demonstrations, construction, and general daily issues of “Nonna” blocking the boulevard with her Fiat 500 while she picks up some bread AND HAS A CHAT WITH THE BAKER keep things unpredictable. Be patient. For most of us, it’s a free ride anyway.

There are too many stories to share in this mass transit missive. But, if you“traveled” this far, here are my top 3:

#3. Verbal Noise Nuisance

Believe it or not, in spite of the mechanical Mount Vesuvius, the busses are usually quiet in terms of homo sapiens antics. People are emersed in their phones or devices. Many, like me, go into a mantra, “Let me live, not get sick, not kill this idiot next to me…”. But, the exceptions are glaring and blaring. The Roman Woman who is hard of hearing, having an argument with her maid as to how to run the washing machine…this goes on the entire trip. And my favorite, the LOUD Americans, who don’t know they are noisy, talking about:


He like said like that he like liked me

she 2

OMG. Like really like liked you?


Dunno. He like said he was a Car Bin Air ee or like sumthing.

she 2

That’s like a police dude I think.

#2. Take Time to Puke

The bus is packed. Suddenly, all the passengers yell for the driver to pull over. Some emergency. He stops on a very busy street and opens the center exit door. A young girl calmly leans out and barfs beautifully. No heaving, noise or doubled over groaning. Just a lovely yellow spew of yuck. She does not exit but waits to see if she has completed the process.  The driver is yelling for updates. Everyone except me is telling him to wait and be patient. I am asking myself, “How can these people tolerate someone who doesn’t have the common sense to get off the bus, deal with her issues, let us get on our way, and catch another one herself”? She makes one more brief withdrawal and rests in a seat that has been meticulously prepared for her.  Then it dawns on me, “They are more concerned with the health and comfort of a girl than they are about being on time or inconvenienced or late or angry or incredulous or…”

#1. Taking “Out” Nonna

As I explained before, people go in the out and out the in. So here I am, on a packed express bus. We are talking noses frescoed to the windows packed. I am tattooed to the exit door, waiting to be spewed out at the next stop by the7,354 fellow riders who want get out here as well.  All should be well and relief is just a door-opening away. They part and there she is, a Nonna resembling Alex Karass. She is big, broad, bag heavy in both hands, and ready to board through the exit like she always does. 7,354 people be damned. 

Nose to nose with her for that brief second, I executed my only option. Pow. She goes flying with her bags as I give her the old linebacker block. The 7,354 mobexit and score escape after I clear the field. I am expecting torment, lectures, insults, retaliation, even arrest. But, they quietly shuffle by. Some smile. A few wink at me. One guy says, Bravo. I did what so many of them always wanted to.

Nonna adjusts herself, picks up her bags, then glares at me. Uh Oh. Here it comes. That rock of a face cracks a smile as she says, “Buon Giorno”. The true meaning was, “Hey, nice shot”. And she still has time to make her entrance through the exit.

All’s fair in love and Mass Transit.


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Tom was born Thomas James Shaker on August 13, 1952, to Mary Katherine Christopher Shaker (daughter of Italian immigrants) and Mitchell Francis Shaker (son of Lebanese immigrants) in the town of Niles, Ohio. He is the fifth of eight children. He scored the lead role in his kindergarten play Frosty the Snowman and never looked back. Throughout his 12-year parochial education, Tom mixed high academic marks with countless arts, sports, and student government activities. This culminated with his becoming a participant, then counselor and finally consultant to the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and its affiliates in Ohio (OASC) and Pennsylvania (PASC). Tom also was selected and participated in the Buckeye Boys State leadership conference sponsored by the State of Ohio. He continued these activities as he prepared for undergraduate school. Entering Kent State University in September 1970, Tom immediately became involved with activities surrounding the tragic campus shootings the previous May 4. He was a founding member of the Candlelight Vigil Committee and continued to work with the Centre for Peaceful Change. From 1970-74, Tom produced many theatrical works off campus while performing in university theatre department plays. He was inducted into three honoraria and given the Senior Service Award. Tom graduated with countless student activity, government and Arts credits highlighted by his work as the publisher for the Chestnut Burr Yearbook and Kent Stater Campus Newspaper. Tom earned his AEA Actors' Equity Association Card (the union for professional stage actors) in the summer of 1974 as the third cowboy from the left in Oklahoma and fourth Buddhist from the right in The King and I. He was accepted to Akron University Law School, attending in the fall of 1974. But, the draw to the arts was too strong and he left law school to continue his main pursuit, the stage. Tom spent 1975 as a teaching consultant for the Portage County Schools, filming and coaching teachers on classroom presentation and speaking techniques. He began his Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, autumn, 1976. Again Tom graduated with high marks and a series of honors in spring, 1978, most notably serving as President of the Michigan Union. He also worked on a graduate school scholarship as a counselor in the University Admissions Office. Tom simultaneously spent those years in Ann Arbor battling Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer that warranted his regular sessions of MOPP Chemotherapy throughout his academic tenure at the U of M. With diploma in hand and a clean bill of health, Tom moved to Detroit and spent twelve years distinguishing himself as an actor, director, producer and Edu-Tainer. He earned union membership in Screens Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers (AFTRA). His countless commercial, industrial and film credits included national spots for General Motors, the voice for Cadillac and a role in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. He also formed his production company, staging dozens of musicals including Fiddler on The Roof, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma…and touring schools with creative interpretations of classic works from Shakespeare to Aesop to Dickens. His Edu-Tainment company created an improvisational concept called Storybuilding where student stories and ideas were brought to life before the entire school assembly of their peers, thus building creative writing interest, literacy skills, and self-esteem. He even developed a school outreach program for McDonalds Corporation and actually portrayed the character Ronald McDonald for the dozen years he spent in Detroit. He also served as a board member for The Ronald McDonald Houses (RMC) in both Ann Arbor and Detroit and was a consultant to Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities (RMCC) at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Broadway had always been beckoning. In 1991, Tom moved to NYC and spent another decade in countless film, television, theatre and Edu-Tainment projects. Productions included Law and Order, Ransom, 15 Minutes, Die Hard III and a critically acclaimed showcase of his original musical Birdsville ,(adapted from the Aristophanes farce), staged at the Kauffman Theatre on 42nd Street. In 2000, Tom travelled to Rome, Italy in search of his Italian heritage. A two-week vacation turned into a change of continents and he is now a dual citizen commuting between The Eternal City and The Big Apple. He is Dottore Shaker in Italy, Director of Performing and Visual Arts Education, consulting at Sapienza Roma I University and Link Campus University. He is also a member of the USO committee in Rome, serves as a volunteer warden for the American Embassy, and is a past president of the American International Club of Rome (AICR). He has spent countless hours on various sets and sound stages including Cinecitta, “Hollywood on the Tiber”. Mel Gibson selected Tom for the role of Eyepatch in The Passion of the Christ. Then, the Cinecitta Jerusalem of Gibson became the Roman Forum for HBO and Tom was cast for recurring appearances in the drama mini-series, Rome. He is the Court Lictor in the episode titled Spoils. In Italy, Tom is writing his books, At Home in Rome, 24 Hours in… and Italy with Tom Shaker. He is scouting for his documentary Film "Kissa Grandpa" and producing/singing an album of new jazz standards with his band, "Tom and the Cats", featuring his original tunes, Bella Roma and Italiano-Americano. He has produced and recorded the album, Giggin’ with God, in the Vatican City studios. Tom has completed principal photography for the first fifteen episodes of his International media project, Where in the World with Tom Shaker, Rome 360º, the Churches. He has completed the pilot for his wine series, In Vino Veritas, as well. In Paris, France, Tom co-wrote, shot and starred in the TV series, Forget About It (Fugedaboudit), the story of a bar/diner owner and his screwy clientele. The show was accepted and showcased at the Hollywood Film Festival in December 2012. Works in Progress include: • In Vino Veritas / 30-minute episode series about wines of the world • 24 hours in… / a look at Piazza, Square and Centers around the Globe • Post Production, Rome 360º, Season I • Pre-Production, Season II, Rome 360º, March 2013 • Episode and distribution development for Forget About It 2016 will see the completion of his latest screenplays, The Siege of Malta and Roma Rewrite. Finally, Tom keeps busy in Italy lecture-guiding friends, colleagues, and referrals around the entire boot and islands.

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